My mom and I each have a gallery in our minds. The galleries are beautiful, with perfect lighting, neutral walls, and welcoming spaces. And they are completely filled with things we didn’t buy on our trips, but we wish we had.  (If you were wondering where I got the travel shopping bug from, it’s definitely from my mom).

My mom’s gallery includes a carved leather coat from Calgary and an Inuit bear from Calgary. There is also a sculpture from New Orleans.

My own gallery is becoming quite large. I may need to expand to a larger space and hire a curator. The gallery includes a stunning stone mosaic (called intarsia: see Wiki page here with some images of this beautiful craft) I saw in Florence (I just couldn’t spend $500 on it!) and a seascape and dunes painting I just saw in Florida (the artist’s web site is here, with one similar painting – again, it was lovely but just more than I could spend). There were beautiful, crazy-expensive quilts made by the Amish in Sarasota, FL and also in Chautauqua County, NY that I would have loved to own (I get a little crazy over quilts. My grandmother had several made by her mother. There was one made up of pieces of dresses my grandmother used to wear as a child and she used to point to the pieces and tell me about the clothes. I guess quilts take me back to that moment).

I still remember a vase covered in turquoise I saw in a shop in Santa Fe. It was stunning, but it was ungodly expensive and the inside was black, which didn’t excite me. That doesn’t stop me from wishing I had bought it.

A watermelon

Very similar to the turquoise vase I didn't buy

Very similar to the turquoise vase I didn’t buy

tourmaline necklace from Maine and a vase painted with the New Mexico sky were on the list until my husband bought them for me as Christmas gifts after our trips. I have longed for larimar jewelry after seeing a piece on a trip to Colorado (of all places, since larimar is from the Dominican Republic: I actually just took this one out of the gallery when I bought a necklace in St. Martin — details in an upcoming post about that trip!).

capri watchThen there is the Capri watch. I saw this in a free magazine we got on the train in Italy then I saw it in a jewelry store on Capri. I fell in love when I first saw it in the magazine (the woman across the aisle from me did too – she held it up to show her husband). I had trouble in the store finding one that was right. I don’t think they had the one pictured here – it might be the perfect one. Note to family: hint, hint.

Then there was the small table, which was almost a step stool but not quite, that was made of inlaid wood showing a mangrove tree. We saw this in a gallery in Matlacha, Pine Island, Florida. I literally went back to that store 3 times to look at it. The kids gave up and sat in the car. We moved it into the light, out of the light, next to chairs and all around the shop. In the end, we didn’t buy it because I just couldn’t picture where I would put it.

In Jerome, Arizona, I saw an amazing puzzle box of a chicken I should have bought for my mother, who collects chickens. That one haunts me. Lesson to self: do not allow husband to talk you out of things you are certain of!

At the SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) shop in Savannah, GA I saw a huge, beautiful multi-media painting. It had pieces of music glued into the painting along with things like buttons and other items I can’t remember anymore. It was stunning but where on earth would I put something so huge? There was a mosaic mirror frame made of broken pottery and with Scrabble letters used to spell out words in it that I saw on Captiva Island, Florida. At the time, I couldn’t picture where I would put it (my solution to this was I made my own mosaic frame for a bathroom mirror, but I didn’t include the Scrabble letters).

It actually gives me great satisfaction to write about the gallery in mind. Actually recording the items here somehow makes them more real for me!

Do you have a gallery in your mind? What’s in it?

My mom and I each have a gallery in our minds. The galleries are beautiful, with perfect lighting, neutral walls, and welcoming spaces. And they are completely filled with things we didn’t buy on our trips, but we wish we had.  (If you were wondering where I got the travel shopping bug from, it’s definitely … Read more


View from the beach

My daughter and I just returned from a relaxing girls’ getaway in St. Martin for 5 days. It’s a lovely place and I’ll be posting more about the island, what to do and where to eat in later posts (not to mention the shopping!). First things first though is the hotel. And I have a lot to say about it, so I thought I’d do a whole post.

We stayed at the Radisson Blu, in Anse Marcel, on the French (north) side of the island (the southern part of the island is St. Maarten and is Dutch). It is located north of Marigot, the main French town, and very near Grand Case, which is where the best restaurants are. It is also close to Orient Beach, the best known beach on the island.  We wavered a bit about where to stay since this hotel does not offer oceanview rooms. The property backs up to the ocean and the rooms have either garden views or marina views. I generally prefer to have an oceanview when I’m staying in a place that is all about the ocean, but we decided we probably wouldn’t be spending much time in the room anyhow. We reserved a superior room with marina view.

Getting There

The hotel web site provides driving directions from the airport so we brought those along in

The resort - and the mountain you drive over!

The resort – and the mountain you drive over!

case our GPS did not work. When we arrived, it wasn’t working (of course!). I also asked the car rental place for directions. Both sets of directions combined were a bit vague. St. Martin has only a handful of stop signs and traffic lights. There are roundabouts and very few road signs. It is difficult to distinguish a main road from a side road since most roads have no center markings and none are in very good condition  All of this made getting to the hotel extremely challenging! It’s hard to know when to turn when there are no signs. We missed a turn and got a little lost, but finally figured it out.

The next challenge in getting to the hotel is that you must literally go up and over a mountain to get there. The road to the hotel is narrow, very steep and filled with blind hairpin turns. When we arrived it was dark which made it even more terrifying. The hotel doesn’t post signs along this road. There are turnoffs where it would have been helpful to have a little sign guiding me!

View of the hotel from the mountain

View of the hotel from the mountain

At one point, there is a breath-taking view of the cove the hotel is in, but there is absolutely no way to pull over since it is on a hairpin turn. We discovered a spot to leave the car just below this and were able to hike up the hill to get the photo (St. Martin is filled with photo opps like this. You will be driving up a giant hill and suddenly at the crest, you will gasp at the sight below you, but there is nowhere to pull over to get a picture and you are always being tailgated by someone who is annoyed by your driving.


We finally managed to find the hotel, which is hidden behind a manned entry. The exterior of the hotel is very pretty  – white with big colored curtains. My photo did not turn out well, but

Hotel entrance (excuse the poor quality)

Hotel entrance (excuse the poor quality)

I’m sharing to give you a sense of it. I pulled the rental car up to the front door and we went in to check in. There was no bellman in sight. The front desk was very busy and the woman who checked us in was unfriendly, soft-spoken, and difficult to hear. Part of our package included membership in the My Time program, which entitled us to perks like a fruit basket in the room and a food and beverage credit during our stay (both of which we did get). We were also supposed to be greeted with a cold towel and a tropical drink. This did not happen. We were supposed to be given a special My Time card to show during our stay. I learned later that the little paper business card with our room number handwritten on it was this card (would have been nice if someone explained this, but I’m not sure what good this card would have done us). The program was also supposed to include a call on the third day of stay to ask how things were. No one ever called.

The lobby

The lobby

The My Time program also allowed late check out, but when I asked, I was told I would have to ask on the morning of departure, which defeats the purpose since we couldn’t plan to be able to stay.

On the plus side, we were told we had been upgraded to a deluxe room.

While we were checking in, a bellman came and asked me for my keys since my car was in the way. He moved the car and removed some of our luggage and brought it in.  He did not bring all of our belongings and he didn’t tell me where my car was (I assumed since they moved it, they would retrieve it).  The next morning, my daughter and I had to wander the three parking lots to find our car – there was no accountability for where it had been parked.

About 10 days before we left, I contacted the hotel to let them know I am gluten intolerant and to ask if their chefs would be able to accommodate me. I got an email back saying one of the chefs would be emailing me. No one did. Two days before we left I responded and let them know no one had contacted me. No response.  At check in I asked

Lounge chairs on the beach, and in the waves

Lounge chairs on the beach, and in the waves

again and was told a chef would call me in my room. This didn’t happen. At breakfast one morning I tried to get some assistance and the response was quite poor.

The Room

After the nonsense at check-in, we were happy to go to our room which had a king size Sleep Number bed (you can adjust the firmness on each side), a table and chairs, armchair and stool, balcony, and large bathroom. The room was a soft yellow and very comfortable. One feature I liked was that in addition to a chest of drawers, there were huge baskets under the nightstands for storage, as well as two closets and small storage baskets near the minibar.

Lounge area just above the sand

Lounge area just above the sand (with beach bar behind it)

The bathroom was huge with two sinks, but it wasn’t very usable since the tub/shower had a glass door and the toilet area didn’t have a door, so essentially only one person could use the room at a time.

I don’t think I would call our view a marina view. I could barely make out some boats through the trees. Despite this, I was very pleased with our room which appeared recently renovated and was spotless. I do not believe the room was vacuumed during our stay however, since the same crumb remained on the floor by my side of the bed the entire stay.

The Resort

View from the lobby

View from the lobby

I have nothing but glowing things to say about the grounds of this resort. The lobby area was open to the outside and there were many comfortable couches and chairs in the area. There is also a lobby bar. The grounds have beautiful flowering shrubs. There is a bocce ball court and a ping pong table. There is a spa, but we did not visit it during our stay.

The place where we spent all of our time was the beach and pool. The resort backs up to a big

crescent-shaped beach that is shared with several other resorts, however it is not crowded or 100_4270 busy at all. The waves come all the way up to the retaining walls, so there is not a lot of space to actually sit on the beach (and there seem to be no tides, since the water was always up to the edge). On our first morning, there were lounge chairs on the sand, so we sat there. The waves would wash up under our chairs. It was nice, but I was constantly worrying about our bag, which I kept lifting in the air to keep dry. After that morning, no lounge chairs were allowed on the beach, but they were right next to the beach, set up underneath palm trees with a spectacular view. There is a beachside bar with one waiter who makes the rounds. We got one round of frozen drinks and didn’t think they were very good.

Heaven is an infinity pool

Heaven is an infinity pool

The sand is soft and flat with no shells or rocks to speak of. The beach is in a little cove and there are boats anchored there. You can see Anguilla across the way. It is a magical little cove. Be aware that the beach is tops optional! The beach is long enough for a nice walk, which we enjoyed several times. The water had a bit of an undertow, but once you got past where the waves broke it was pleasant to just float in the turquoise water.

I am still not recovered from the glory that was the pool. This was the biggest, most comfortable pool I’ve ever been in. There are 4 sections. There’s a rectangular area where a water fitness class was happening one day. The next section has a sand area next to and no steps – you just gradually walk in like you would at a beach. This was not very deep and was perfect for children.

There was an intermediate area that was a bit deeper, then it opened up to the infinity pool section that was about 5 feet deep. The infinity edge meant that not only could you look out over the ocean as you swam, but there were no waves or splashing, since the water cycles

over the edge of the pool.  It was so big that 4-5 times around this section of the pool

The lovely Anse Marcel beach

The lovely Anse Marcel beach

constituted my half hour daily swim.

There were plenty of chairs, umbrellas and palm trees around the pool. There were a few cabanas for rent but really were unnecessary since you could find so much shade. There are two resident iguanas my daughter saw casually swimming across the pool!

The pool bathrooms were pretty dirty and rarely had toilet paper, so that was the only complaint I can offer.

I would go back just for the pool and beach area alone.

The resort seemed to be very popular with families from France. There were also many couples (some young, but many in midlife) who were American. It never felt crowded or busy and the atmosphere was relaxed and delightful.

If you’re looking for a wonderful getaway, you will find it in this resort!

My daughter and I just returned from a relaxing girls’ getaway in St. Martin for 5 days. It’s a lovely place and I’ll be posting more about the island, what to do and where to eat in later posts (not to mention the shopping!). First things first though is the hotel. And I have a … Read more

I recently wrote about my top ten travel food experiences. Food is such an important part of travel for me. What have you eaten on your travels that was memorable?

I recently wrote about my top ten travel food experiences. Food is such an important part of travel for me. What have you eaten on your travels that was memorable?

Terry at the Taj Mahal

My husband recently went on a 10-day business trip to India. I had fits of jealousy, until he became ill from the food/water on his second day. Once he was feeling better, I was jealous again. He went to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. He drove up into the Himalayas and had tea at a former British officers’ club. He stayed on the Arabian Sea in Mumbai and spent the day at a colleague’s home on a Mumbai island, complete with aquifer-fed in-ground pool and private chef. He had all kinds of amazing food.  You can see why I was on the brink of divorce over this.

Here are some of his observations:

– There are cows everywhere, and no one comments on them. He saw cows in downtown Mumbai. They’re like squirrels. You wouldn’t remark on a squirrel.

– Monkeys, on the other hand, are also everywhere, but people do comment on them, either to say how cute they are, or to warn you that there is an angry one right behind you (no joke).

– If you think people drive like lunatics in NYC, go to India. No traffic lights, lots of passing, constant honking, yet no one is agitated like they are in NYC.

Officers’ Club in the Himalayas

– There is poverty everywhere, but it was not as overwhelming to him as it had been made to sound.

– One of the hotels he stayed at had a wedding, which is a week-long event. One night, the wedding party was brought into the hotel with a full marching band.

– The Taj Mahal is beautiful. There are passages from the Koran on the walls, inlaid with jewels.

– People constantly offer you tea and drinks, to the point of being annoying.

Sculpture garden in Mumbai

– In every business meeting he was in, there was a plate of Lays potato chips on the table. Everyone refers to them as “Baked Lays” even though sometimes they were not baked and were regular.

– Thum’s Up is the drink of choice, a cola beverage made by the Coca-Cola company. In northern India Diet Coke is the beverage of choice. Regular Coke is not even offered.

– The flight there was rough, but the one home nearly killed him. 15 hours is a long, long time to be in one seat on one plane.

– One interesting food he enjoyed was like a milkshake which also had nuts, fruit and pieces of noodles in it that you ate with a spoon while also drinking the liquid with a straw.

– On the way into the Himalayas, their car was stopped by armed military (wearing machine

Ice cream drink: Rose Falooda

guns) and searched for alcohol, which is brought into the area to bribe people for an upcoming election. Interestingly, the people he was with told him not to worry, if there was a problem, they would just bribe the officers.

– In the Himalayas, he was telling his companions about a restaurant here in Buffalo. A woman nearby overheard him and said “Oh, I’ve been there. We’re from Toronto.” There is always a Buffalo connection. (I was asked for directions in Rome by a woman who turned out to be from Toronto – everywhere we go we meet people from home).




My husband recently went on a 10-day business trip to India. I had fits of jealousy, until he became ill from the food/water on his second day. Once he was feeling better, I was jealous again. He went to the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort. He drove up into the Himalayas and had tea … Read more

Our US map

I’ve got a thing for maps. I grew up looking at the world map my grandfather kept next to the pool table in the basement that tracked all of my grandparents’ travels (they went to every continent but Antartica). I used to look at all the lines on that map (my grandfather drew lines, tracing every trip they took) and imagine myself following them. I wanted to see every single place they had been and more. That cherished vintage map now hangs on our basement stairs and I think of them every time I go past it. It is one of my most special possessions.

My grandparents’ map

Lately I’ve been drooling over the maps I saw in catalogs – world maps or US maps, framed and meant to put thumb tacks in for every place you’ve visited. But they start at about $170 (minimum  – many are over $200). Which seemed pretty ridiculous for a map. So I made my own.

I ordered a 36×24 map from Amazon for about $5. I actually got both a world map and a US map (it’s hard to fit a lot of pins close together on the US in the world map, so we did both maps so we could show every place we’ve been in the US). Look carefully at the colors on the map. I ordered one world map only to realize it was mostly pink which just looked ridiculous in the room I wanted to hang it in.

Go to your local office store and buy a piece of foam board that is at least 36×24 (about $10). Go to Michael’s or JoAnn’s when frames are on sale and buy one you like that will fit a 36×24 map (mine was about $30).

Our world map

Take the glass out of the frame and use it as a template on the foam board. Cut the foam board with a utility knife.

Make sure the map actually fits on the foam board (I had one map that was supposed to be 26×24 but in reality was a few inches smaller).

You can either lay the map on the foam board and place the frame over it to hold it in place, OR you can use a spray adhesive to spray the board and attach the map to it. It really depends on how secure your map feels without the adhesive. I did one each way. It’s much easier if you aren’t using the adhesive, but your frame might not be tight enough to keep the map from buckling without it. Do not put the glass in the frame!

Hang it on the wall. Buy colored map pins to mark every place you’ve visited. We decided that we would put a pin in every place we had stayed in overnight together. For cruises we marked each port of call.

You just saved yourself at least $130! This also makes a nice gift. I made one for my parents.

I’ve got a thing for maps. I grew up looking at the world map my grandfather kept next to the pool table in the basement that tracked all of my grandparents’ travels (they went to every continent but Antartica). I used to look at all the lines on that map (my grandfather drew lines, tracing … Read more

As I look back on our travels, there are moments that stand out to me in my mind like postcards. Beautiful places, important moments, and stand out experiences that are head and shoulders above the rest. They’ve created a kind of gallery of snapshots in mind, which I mentally thumb through at times, to relive them.


– Crossing the border from England to Scotland and driving up through the sheep-dotted hills of the Borderlands. I waited my entire life to go to Scotland, land of my ancestors, and when it actually happened, I cried with an overwhelming sense of homecoming.

– Gondola ride in Venice. This was one of those surreal moments when you’re doing something that is a bucket list item and is something so idealized that it doesn’t even seem real when you do it. I felt as if I was holding my breath the whole time, willing myself to remember every single second.

– Waikoloa Beach, Big Island of Hawaii. This was the beach of my dreams. Smooth, placid

Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii

blue-green water, flat sandy beach and shade from palm trees. I remember thinking, am I really here in this paradise?

– The bridge from the mainland to Hilton Head Island. The bridge gently spans over a Low Country tidal creek, which meanders among the weeds with pluff mud visible. I’ve had a thing for tidal creeks ever since.

– The waves crashing on the rocks outside a cottage in York Harbor, Maine. It sounded,

York, Maine

smelled, and looked divine, but it also brought back my childhood, when I spent two weeks each summer on the Penobscot Bay. It was like being reunited with an old friend. The ocean was still there, waiting for me.

– Ellis Island. Most people have their big travel moment at the Statue of Liberty, but for me it happened at Ellis Island. I could almost see, hear, and feel the immigrants walking from the docks and through the doors. They were still there in that big echoey building and I felt my connection to my ancestors deeply at that place. My skin prickled with their nearness.

– The library at Monticello, Virginia. Thomas Jefferson’s library room absolutely


overwhelmed me with emotions and strange connections. All of his belongings and furniture are there and the bed he died in is in the room, next to his desk. Another place that moved me to tears.

– The Blue Grotto, Capri, Italy. This moment felt surreal, as if I were watching it on TV. I will never forget the soul-wrenching blue of the water, as we rowed twice around the grotto, chills running down my back.

– The sky of New Mexico. People talk about Montana being the land of the Big Sky (I haven’t been there yet and I’ll let you know if I agree once I get there!), but New Mexico to me was about the wide open sky, which reached down to hold up the land.

– The view from Pike’s Peak. It was if we were on top of a tiny, pointy skyscraper, and all

Pike’s Peak, Colorado

the world was laid out beneath us to see.

– Touring the White House. Sometimes I think, was I really there? It seems amazing that we walked in the steps of the presidents and world leaders when we went through this iconic building.

– Glastonbury Abbey, England. The mythical burial place of King Arthur and Guenevere. The town is one nutty hippie hang out, but the quiet beauty of the ruins here spoke to me deeply, whether or not the leader of Camelot really did rest here. It was a place that felt sacred and spiritual to me, when very few places ever do. It was a moment of connection, seeing this place from the legend, when our children’s middle names and our dogs’ first names all come from Arthurian literature.

– Hell’s Gate, Kawartha Lakes, Ontario Canada. We rented a houseboat and explored this lovely area of lakes connected with many locks. The most memorable part of the trip was navigating Hell’s Gate, a very dangerous, narrow passage filled with rocky outcroppings. I don’t even think we have a photo of it since we were so busy trying not to wreck our boat! It was spectacular in the combination of water and sharp, pointy rocks.

– Wild horses crossing the road. We’ve encountered these twice – once on the highway in

New Mexico wild horses

New Mexico and once at the Assateague National Seashore in Maryland. Both times they were beautiful, free, and full of spirit.

– Lobster in the rough, Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Before we took the kids to meet my Maine, my husband and I went there on our honeymoon. We still believe that the only way to eat lobster is at a picnic table, with an ear of corn cooked in the lobster water, and a bag of potato chips, with the ocean over your shoulder.

– Swimming with the dolphins, Key Largo, Florida. I just remember laughing and laughing with pure joy as we swam with the dolphins and they pushed us through the water.

Glacier Bay, Alaska

– Glacier Bay, Alaska. The utter stillness that surrounded our ship in the bay is something I won’t ever forget, then the quiet being broken when the glacier calved, making a big splash. It was dramatic and it was also terrifying. The glacier was light blue and the water was deep dark blue. The air was clear and biting, and it seemed we were alone in the wilderness.

– The Milky Way, Finger Lakes, New York. Although my family now owns a cottage in the Finger Lakes, for several years, we rented one on Cayuga Lake for a week each summer. One night, after we had put our preschool daughter to bed, we were sitting by the fire, stargazing. It was a remarkably clear night and the absence of ambient lighting made it possible to see what felt like the entire galaxy. We could clearly see the cloudy clusters of stars making up the Milky Way. My husband went inside and woke our daughter, bringing her outside, to  stand at the end of the dock, so she could look up and see this beautiful universe she was our center of. She doesn’t remember it, but we do.

What are your postcard travel moments?



As I look back on our travels, there are moments that stand out to me in my mind like postcards. Beautiful places, important moments, and stand out experiences that are head and shoulders above the rest. They’ve created a kind of gallery of snapshots in mind, which I mentally thumb through at times, to relive … Read more

Usually when we travel I spend a lot of time finding just the right place to stay. This time, I let go of that and we stayed where our tour company placed us. I carefully checked out each place before we signed up, however. It was a relief in a way, not to have to make those decisions, particularly in a foreign country where it’s hard to know what to expect.

All of the hotels had bidets which my kids were horrified by, I was fascinated by and I later learned my father always used as a wine bucket when he was in Europe. We had some trouble getting the TVs to work but were surprised at the many different language channels to be found! All had elevators that seemed to have been retrofitted into the building, making them tiny and scary. Every hotel had a breakfast buffet that was nearly identical (more on that at the end of the post). Overall, we did well with our hotels.

Hotel Giorgione, Venice

A guide met us at the Venice airport and took us by water taxi to Venice, where we walked down an alley, through a campo, down a street and into our hotel. I was already overwhelmed by the beauty and other-worldliness of Venice, but when we stepped into our hotel, I felt like I was in a fairytale. The first thing I saw was a gigantic Murano chandelier – so big it hung almost to the floor and was roped off. The lobby felt very elegant and genteel with glided furniture and mirrors. The hotel desk was my second favorite thing about the hotel. Behind the desk were cubbies from which hung big tassels with the room keys. You hand in your key before leaving and pick it up on your way in. I’ve never stayed anywhere where you did that and I just adored the tassels!

Hotel Giorgione

The rooms were on the small side, but they continued to feel very European and elegant. We did not have adjoining rooms, or even rooms on the same floor, which was less than convenient. The baths were modern, in contrast with everything else.

The third best thing about the hotel was the afternoon snack. Every afternoon they set out cookies and iced tea (peach or lemon). We hit that table with a

Afternoon snack

Breakfast courtyard in Venice

vengeance every day!

The elevator was tiny and terrifying. There was a room with a pool table, and although my husband and son played, technically they weren’t supposed to because you had to be 18 to play pool (apparently because they gamble on pool in Italy).

breakfast in Venice

Breakfast was served in an elegant dining area with an outdoor courtyard. The birds were very aggressive in the courtyard, however, so we stayed inside. The breakfast staff berated my son one morning for putting a croissant through the toaster (“Not for croissaint!” they scolded him).

This was my favorite hotel. It was within reasonable walking distance of San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, yet it was set apart enough to be in a quiet area. It felt comfortable and friendly while very, very different from American hotels.

Hotel Plaza Lucchesi, Florence

The lobby of this hotel was elegant

The view out the Hotel Lucchesi window

but there was never a soul in it. This hotel had the largest elevators, but they were not big enough to hold us and all our carry on bags (they were large but had a low weight limit). One of us always had to take the stairs! The rooms were comfortable but not spectacular. I did love the big windows that had wooden shutters you could close to keep out the heat, or open for a view of the Arno.

The front desk was helpful. The breakfast room was comfortable and attractive. The biggest downfall of this hotel was its location. Yes, it was directly on the Arno which

Inside Hotel Plaza Lucchesi

made for a lovely view, but it was just too far from the Ponte Vecchio and the center of Florence for our tastes. It was billed as walking distance, but we found it to be quite a hike, particularly after walking all day in the city.

Bailey’s Hotel, Rome

This was our least favorite hotel. There was no lobby to speak of (2 chairs). We thought we were getting a quad room. What we got were two connecting rooms. One was quite nice with a big bed and bath. The other was very tiny, with room for a bed and nothing else and a bath that had a shower stall, no tub and was the size of a closet. The concept I imagine was that the parents would get the big room and the kids

Inside the bordello, in our robes

would go in the small room. We have a 20 year old daughter and a 14 year old son and there’s simply no way they are sleeping in the same bed with each other. It would come to blows. So my husband and son squeezed in the tiny room, leaving the big room to the ladies.

I did not care for the decor in the rooms – bordello red is how I would describe it.

The breakfast area was pretty awful. It was an interior room on the second floor with no natural light and florescent lighting. They had tiny cafe tables, so we could not all sit together. The maids kept their carts in the doorway, so that provided a spectacular view. It was an unpleasant way to start the mornings.

The hotel was not conveniently located within walking distance to anything. It was supposed to be walking distance to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, but we found it to be much too far.

Hotel Cesare Augusto, Sorrento

The gardens at Cesare Augusto

Our final hotel was this once grand hotel in Sorrento. It was clearly something in its heyday, but unfortunately I don’t think anything has changed since then! It is perched nicely at the edge of the main district of the town, so you can easily walk anywhere. It has a huge lobby, with furniture from the 70s. There are photos all over of Sophia Loren staying there, smooching the owner. I think they froze the hotel at that moment.

The rooms were large but the furniture was old. The beds were incredibly uncomfortable. We ended up piling blankets on top of the mattresses then putting the sheets over them and sleeping on top to try to get some padding beneath us. We did have adjoining rooms which was perfect.

The breakfast room was a huge dining room with many waiters mulling around. It was comfortable, but still felt dated.

Outside the back door was a lovely patio with gardens and porch swings and an old broken fountain that would have been nice if it worked. There was a pool on the roof, but it was quite small and there were people crowded around it. Not our speed.

The hotel staff spoke little to no English and were not very helpful at all and were often unfriendly. We definitely would not stay here again.

Hotel Breakfasts

Every hotel had an almost identical buffet breakfast. Here’s what we could always find:

– scrambled eggs

– croissants

– fresh fruit (cut up melon and whole oranges and apples)

– pastries and cakes

– yogurt

– coffee

– juice

– toast and a toaster machine

– bacon

– cold cuts and cheese

By the time we came home, I never wanted to see scrambled eggs or croissants again! What are your favorite hotel breakfast foods?


Usually when we travel I spend a lot of time finding just the right place to stay. This time, I let go of that and we stayed where our tour company placed us. I carefully checked out each place before we signed up, however. It was a relief in a way, not to have to … Read more

beef rolls

The next stop on our culinary tour of Italy was Rome. I was quite excited about Rome and it really was a wonderful place to visit. It was spectacular to see so many ancient sites. Rome is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, however, I’m just not into spending hundreds and hundreds on a meal. Instead, I am always seeking restaurants that are somewhat casual with just damn good food. I was hoping Rome would provide that.

The photos in this post are appearing a bit ahead of my descriptions (since there are so many!), so I hope you won’t mind reading and then looking up to see the corresponding photos.

Day One

Fettucine with meatballs

We arrived in Rome before lunch and checked into our hotel. The hotel clerk was very helpful and friendly, so we decided to ask him for a lunch suggestion. He told us the Spanish Steps were within walking distance of the hotel, so we asked for a place near there. The map of Rome that we had makes everything seem close by. Getting to the Spanish Steps alone was quite a hike. Once there, he had us walking blocks and blocks and blocks. The streets and writing on the map were miniscule, and as always, the GPS on my husband’s

Cured meat with ship’s cheese

phone was useless. We got to where we thought the restaurant was supposed to be. We asked one person where it was; he pointed straight ahead. We walked and walked and finally asked someone else who pointed us back in the direction we came from. At that point we gave up. We took a cab to the Trevi Fountain area and ate in a bar (a “snack bar”) where we ate pizza at some tables crowded inside it. I gave that pizza a discerning look because they had sheets and sheets of different varieties just


sitting in the case (unrefrigerated) and they quickly heat them up in an oven when you order. It was about 102 degrees there that day and the thought of those pizzas sitting out all day made me wary, but we did survive.

For dinner, we decided to talk to the desk again, assuming we were idiots and just couldn’t find the lunch place. They recommended a place just down the block (perfect since we were exhausted from walking), Ristorante La Pentolaccia. It looked to have the

My very sad, very overdone lamb

same kind of vibe as the places we loved in Venice and Florence (old, family-owned, “real” food).  The place was crowded and loud, which detracted from our meal. We enjoyed an amuse bouche of spinach and ricotta quiche in puff pastry which was light and tasty. Then two of had fettucine with tomato sauce and meatballs. We had to ask for Parmesan cheese (they don’t normally have cheese on the table in Italy for pasta). The pasta was excellent (it is chewier and more flavorful than our pasta – even though I cook it al dente, I cannot quite replicate it), however we found throughout Italy that their tomato sauce lacked the hint of sweetness we are used to in sauces here at home, and which we prefer. We also had tortellini in beef broth (this was so simple, but so amazingly delicious), cured meats and cheese (the menu described it as “ship’s cheese” which is how Italians pronounce “sheep’s cheese.”

Chocolate fountain

This has now become our standard family pronunciation) with ambrosia honey (amazing). Another item was air-dried beef rolls with bleu cheese and walnuts. This was a nice combo and the beef was aged and had a deep flavor. Also on our table was roast lamb with the ever present potatoes and oxtail with carrot, tomato, and celery (my husband grew up eating oxtail soup, so he had to get this and did enjoy it: basically a roasted piece of meat with a bone through it).

The worst item was the lamb. It was served well-done and was simply awful: dry, chewy, stringy, and flavorless. As always, our waiter was

Spaghetti Pie near the Vatican

deeply concerned if we did not finish every last morsel on our plates (they were always very upset and thought we didn’t like the food if we didn’t finish it: we explained over and over we loved it but didn’t have room!), however I had to tell him I thought the lamb was overcooked. He insisted it was perfect. I explained we normally eat lamb that is at least pink or medium rare. So odd, considering you can’t get a piece of beef that is less than bloody anywhere in Italy that I could find! This was the worst item we were served on our entire trip.

Dessert that night (and each night in

Fried Mashed Potatoes

Rome!) was at a gelato shop around the corner that had dark and white chocolate “fountains,” really just a stream of chocolate that was running continuously from a little faucet. Our hotel desk clerk told us to go there. He was in awe of the “fountains.” They didn’t excite us much but the gelato was excellent (even if everything was completely in Italian and they did not have it out in mounds so you could see it, so you had to try to ask what the flavors were). You would order your gelato and they would hold a little wafer cookie under the “fountain” then stick that in the gelato. It was puzzling to us because it simply wasn’t that wonderful. If they had made gelato sundaes with it, I would have been more interested.

Day Two

Amazing pizza in 4 styles

Our second day in Rome was a very busy one, with our tour of the Vatican. The tour was in the early afternoon, so we headed to Vatican City to shop and eat lunch beforehand. We had a hard time finding a lunch venue. Everything was very touristy, with the dreaded picture menus that scream bad food. We ended up in one place where we had some pizza and a spaghetti pie that was unlike anything I saw anywhere else in Italy. It was pretty good, but it was clearly made ahead and reheated, so it just wasn’t as fresh as I would have liked.

We arrived back at our hotel that night completely wilted (it was incredibly hot inside the Vatican) and worn out, but decided

Delicious drinks at Ginger

that we wanted to have some really good pizza for dinner. Again, although I had done months of research, we wanted to hear what the desk clerk recommended. We explained we wanted the best pizza in Rome and what did he recommend? He gave us directions to a place a few blocks away. He gave us his card and said to give it to the restaurant and also promised to call ahead and reserve a table. We were excited – good pizza recommended by a Roman. We arrived at the restaurant and it

Baguette sandwich

was completely empty. It was rather formal looking. We handed the card to the hostess/waitress who didn’t seem to care much. We were seated and the menu had ONE pizza on it. ONE. This was not a pizzeria. We felt terrible, but had to get up and leave. We could not face another meal of pasta and meat. By this time, we were in full hunger meltdown and needed to feed everyone quickly. We recalled passing a place as we walked from the hotel and decided to head there. This was called Al Forno della Soffitta Via Piave. It was exactly

Snacks with the drinks at Ginger

what we were looking for. Tons of amazing pizzas made in a wood oven. A busy, happy restaurant with friendly servers.  Jackpot. We started with fried mashed potatoes (kind of fun, but similar to what my grandma used to do with leftover mashed potatoes) and a Pollo salad (with chicken and corn) and a Toto Salad (with parmesan and artichoke). Delicious, fresh, and amazing, and as always so much better than salads at home. I still can’t get over how good all the salads were and how stunningly fresh the ingredients were as well. In Italy, there is no such thing as yellow lettuce, brown edged lettuce, unripe tomatoes, or wilted greens.

Then it was time for pizza. You could order small pizzas or get one

Gnocchetti with red prawns

giant one with 4 types on  it. We did this and got Margherita, Fume (smoked mozzarella and ham), four cheese (with a cream sauce) and Funghi (mushroom with anchovy). The pizza was fabulous and we got to sample all four kinds. All was right with the world — we finally had some outstanding pizza! I loved the smoked mozzarella and ham and the Margherita was classic. The crust was crispy on the bottom yet soft enough to enjoy chewing it. It had a fab woody flavor from the oven. A true experience.

Day Three

The third day was another busy walking day: Colosseum and the Forum. And again, hot as hell.  We


grabbed a quick lunch this day at a snack bar: this time we had sandwiches. One was a tomato and mozzarella on white bread and one was a salami and cheese. The snack bars serve identical sandwiches all over the city. They’re fast and easy and so much better than fast food you get at home.

For dinner that night, we decided to wander around the Spanish Steps. We poked in some shops and stumbled upon the perfect restaurant. It is called Ginger. It was my ideal restaurant. First of all,


everything was organic. OMG. We have one organic restaurant in Buffalo. I am sure there are many others in Rome. It was also all locally sourced. Everything was creative with a  fusion attitude. AND they had wonderful fruit smoothies. We had died and gone to heaven. I had an Alessio smoothie: passion fruit, apple, and strawberry. My daughter had a mojito passion cocktail (and I could have actually drunk this, it was so good): rum, lime, brown sugar, mint and passion fruit. Delish. My son had a Caffe latte shake. The drinks came with a lovely little board of meats and cheeses that was lovely to

Spaghetti alla bottarga

nibble on.

One of their specialties are these great sandwiches on super skinny mini-baguettes, so we had to try one of those: Lungarhette (cured ham, figs, and arugula): I really love figs combined with savory elements! The baguette is made on the premises and was the perfect texture. I had the gnocchetti with red prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil (not a sauce: they were fresh) with shaved cheese on top. Husband had spaghetti alla bottarga with dried tunafish, eggs,and clams and really enjoyed the flavors of the fish. Daughter had carpaccio of swordfish, salmon, tuna with avocado, tartar sauce and sprout salad with a side of the ubiquitous potatoes. The fish was fresh and silky and complemented by the avocado, something you don’t see with fish at home. My son had tortellini with meat and pecorino and then entrecote (steak) with potatoes and rosemary. The food was all fun, flirty and delicious.

We left Rome feeling well-fed and happy. Someday, when we are traveling without kids, I would love to go to Rome and seek out more hidden dining gems (and maybe I’ll spring for one of the super-pricey spots!).

The next stop on our culinary tour of Italy was Rome. I was quite excited about Rome and it really was a wonderful place to visit. It was spectacular to see so many ancient sites. Rome is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, however, I’m just not into spending hundreds and … Read more

Fusion salad at Gilli

Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up?

Day One

We arrived in Florence after the beautiful train trip from Venice. The scenery was to die for. We dined that night at Trattoria Pallottino, which was within walking distance of our hotel, kind of in the backstreets of the area. I didn’t really care for the feel of this area: sort of dirty, cramped, and just

Sea bass carpaccio at Osvaldo

nothing nice to look at. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to get back to the hotel afterwards because there was a big concert and many streets were blocked off unless you an entry ticket. Getting back was a bit tricky! I had the ribollita here and it just confirmed for me that I don’t like ribollita! It was tasty, but I just don’t like mushy bread in my soup. Other items on the table included lasagna, beef entrecote (which came with those magic potatoes I told you about in my Venice food

Melon, ham, dark chocolate

piece), gnocchi, and fusilloni with ricotta, basil and tomato. Everything was pretty good here.

Day Two

Our first full day in Florence was a busy one, with our tour and visit to the David. We ended up in Republicca Piazza for lunch at Gilli, an historic cafe right on the plaza. There are three restaurants right on the plaza, all over-priced. It was one of those moments where the entire family was in a meltdown over hunger, so we had to act fast. We sat inside in the blissful air

Salumi and cheese plate

conditioning. There are many, many table outside on the piazza, but it was far too hot to even consider sitting outside. This felt a lot like the Caffe Florian in Venice – historic building, ancient restaurant, and serious, professional waiters. We shared a fusion salad (salumo, brie, apple, walnut) and French fries (it was one of those moments). My son also had spaghetti Bolognese.

For dinner that night we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and hit the jackpot. We went to Club Culinaria Toscana da Osvaldo (Piza dei Peruzzi 3r). This is a teeny, tiny little


place run by a very talented chef. It was comparable to our last meal in Venice, where we dined at an old family-owned restaurant. I think the owner was our waiter. He was so friendly and kind to us and made us laugh and feel at home.  It is one of those unforgettable meals. I began with a plate of salumi, cheeses, and marmalade (an amazing selection of local


flavors) which was to die for, and then had pici (like spaghetti but it is more tubular) with basil and pine nuts, tomato and garlic (this was simple and elegant). Our daughter had melon, ham, and dark chocolate to start. This was our first experience with the melon/proscuitto trend and we all loved it – and the dark chocolate was amazing with it. She then had tagliatelle with honey, almonds, basil and clams (this was a delightful mix of flavors). My husband had a carpaccio of sea bass (he loved it but I am just not a fan of raw seafood) then

Fried sea bass and strawberry mashed potato

fried sea bass with strawberry mashed potato and spinach (the strawberry mashed potatoes sound weird, but were really good).. Our son had sliced beef with rosemary, mushrooms, and you guessed it, those potatoes I still haven’t figured out how to make.

Don’t worry, there was dessert of course. I had the torta di nonna (grandmother’s cake, which was moist and had nuts in it). Husband had zuppa inglese

Beed and those potatoes

(trifle), daughter had almond biscotti (which came in a wooden bucket) and vin santo to dip in. Son had chocolate mille-feuille with saffron cream. Every bite was amazing. We could have stayed all night had there been room in our overstuffed

Dunking biscotti

stomachs for more. It was a magnificent experience – personal, warm service in a homey, very Italian setting. This is the best of Italy.

Day Three

On our third day, we took the train to Pisa (where, if you’ve

Zuppa Inglese

been reading along, you know my husband sprained his ankle). So that was a bit of a disaster. We ended up grabbing lunch at a pizza place in an out of the way back alley on the way to the train station. It was a bit off the

Chocolate Mille-Feulle

beaten path and our server spoke no English, so communication was difficult! Our pizza was just ok, I would say. This was our first pizza in Italy and it was thinner and smaller than pizzas at home, but there are so many places in the US to get thin crust pizza

Torta di Nonna

that it honestly was not any kind of revelation for us.

We took the train back to Florence and enjoyed our final meal in Florence that evening. Again, we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and again they were spot-on. This time they sent us to Buca San Giovanni, directly on the Duomo piazza. They had tables outside on the square, but they also had tables inside, down a flight of stairs in the basement

Pizza in Pisa

where it was cool and comfortable, even though those stairs were treacherous. Again, this was another family-owned restaurant that had been open for years. Dining in that basement felt so ancient and truly European, as if we should have been surrounded by casks of wine and catacombs. Instead, there were signed photos on the walls of Italian politicians and celebrities. My husband still thinks there was a

Bread with fondue

photo of an NHL player, but we voted him down on that one!

We knew we were in for a lovely meal and were not disappointed! I had risotto with artichoke and ewe’s cheese

Risotto with artichoke

then sliced filet with parmesan and rocket. The risotto was magnificent. The filet was tender and wonderful. My husband had Tuscan bread with fondue of rosemary and mushrooms on it, then filet rossini with foie gras and truffle in a Madeira sauce.

Filet with foie and madeira

Our son had macaroni with meat sauce and porcini mushrooms then filet with the magic potatoes. The daughter had tagliono with porcini mushrooms and truffle cream sauce, then chicken turnover with fontina and raw ham.  There wasn’t a thing on

Chicken turnover

the table we didn’t thoroughly enjoy. We were stuffed, but managed to share two desserts, a bittersweet chocolate basket with cream and strawberries (beautiful to look at and to taste: simple and sweet) and a soft chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

After dinner we emerged onto the piazza in the dark but the

Filet with parmesan

outside of the Duomo and Baptistery were lit and there were vendors selling little toys that you could shoot up in the air and they would light up and make a noise. We stood around for a while and just soaked up the atmosphere there. It would have been lovely to dine on the piazza that night had it not been so very, very hot when we arrived!

Chocolate basket

Other Delights

Throughout our trip, we ate gelato almost every single day in the afternoon. Since dinner is later in Italy (no one serves before 7), we always needed a little something to get us from lunch to dinner without dying of hunger. I didn’t deviate from what worked – I had chocolate or dark chocolate almost every time but everyone else enjoyed other flavors. Gelato is displayed in shop windows in giant mounds. It is scooped from the back of the mound so as not to destroy the beautiful

Windows of tantalizing sweets


display. In all the cities in Italy, the streets are filled with these shops with their tantalizing mountains of gelato (which is less creamy than ice cream but more deeply flavorful). When we came home, ice cream just didn’t taste good

Pizzas in a window

to me anymore!

Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up? Day One We arrived in Florence after the … Read more

Check out my second guest post on My Itchy Travel Feet about buying unique and special mementos on your travels.

Check out my second guest post on My Itchy Travel Feet about buying unique and special mementos on your travels.